It’s time to embrace workload planning!

By Dr Kate Bower, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Professor Terry Threadgold, eminent feminist scholar whose academic work has traversed the areas of English literature, performance studies, women’s studies, media studies, journalism, linguistics and legal studies.

She recently retired as Pro-Vice-Chancellor: Staff at Cardiff University, a role she described as an ‘equality champion’.

Terry is highly regarded in the UK and internationally for her work in equity and diversity in the higher education sector. Our discussion was wide-ranging and fascinating but one thing in particular struck a chord with me – her views on workload models and planning in academia.

In the Australian context (the only one I’m familiar with), workload plans are frequently derided by academics as yet another form of neo-liberal managerial control imposed on our creative minds.

Unions view them as a tool that the administration wields to corral unruly academics into line with university directives. When used incorrectly workload plans can be an exercise in box-ticking and time-wasting, contributing to the growing administrative load on academics.

However, Terry Threadgold thinks that workload models should have a central place in a feminist and equity and diversity agenda in higher education.


As a lifelong academic, Terry was aware in her role as PVC: Staff of the tendency for academics’ to work themselves into the ground if left to their own devices.

For most, if not all scholars, their work is a labour of love, a creative endeavour, a vocation in the original sense of the word.

Hence, academics’ resistance to ‘accounting’ for their work in the crude matrix of workload modeling.

Yet because of their commitment and dedication, academics frequently spend many hours working outside normal business hours – nights, early mornings and weekends.

A personal anecdote gives an indication of the commonality of the practice.

A work colleague posted a Facebook status update on a Sunday afternoon complaining that his institutional email was not functioning and asking colleagues if they were having the same problem.

Twenty-five colleagues responded noting the same problem and complaining about the work that wasn’t getting done because of it.

That is twenty-six academics working on a Sunday and not one mentioned it as exceptional!

Additional hours spent working is not necessarily problematic on its own, if it’s a decision made by an individual because they choose to devote their time to their passion.

A problem arises when it becomes the norm.

Management develops expectations about what an ordinary academic can achieve in terms of workload and outputs on the basis of what the workforce is producing – the expectation is that this work is done in a 40-hour week (in Australia the official working work is in fact 35 hours), when in reality many academics are spending 50 or even 60 hours a week working.

This means the ‘standard’ for academic achievement becomes distorted and expectations become unrealistic.

Just like any other job, an academic’s job should be achievable in normal business hours.

Overtime should be a choice not a necessity.

By now, the implications for equity should be evident but let me elaborate the point.

For some academics, working 50 or 60 hours a week is just not possible.

Women, sole parents and people with disabilities are disproportionately affected. Despite progress in the numbers of couples co-parenting, women are still more often the primary carers for children and for elderly parents.

The responsibilities of caring for children, aging or unwell parents or perhaps a sibling or partner with severe disability make it difficult to manage a 40-hour working week, let alone finding time on nights or weekends to work.

These problems can be compounded for sole parents who have similar responsibilities but no one to share the load.

Some academics with disabilities require extra time and assistance to participate in the workforce and simply do not have the option to work overtime.

An example: I’m a member of a Facebook group for academic mums and the most common complaint is the anxiety and fear caused by having to compete for jobs with colleagues who can devote many more hours to their work because they don’t have children to care for; and the networking opportunities missed by not being able to attend after-work events or international conferences.

This is where Terry Threadgold sees an opportunity for workload models to help.

If academics use the workload model to accurately account for their time and their activities; to reflect the enormous effort in terms of intellect and time invested that produces academic work; it can be advantageous to all.

As Pro-vice-chancellor Terry was able to use workload models to create a more equitable work place by demonstrating an appropriate workload in a way that was appealing to university management.

Workload models that accurately reflect the hours spent on each activity can highlight the prevalence of overtime and change the expectations of managers overseeing academics workload, meaning that all academics can participate in the workforce equally without impacting their personal and caring responsibilities.

In the case of Cardiff University, Terry and her colleagues were also able to demonstrate the need for more permanent full-time academics leading to several new appointments across the institution.

In the long run, embracing the workload plan as an equity tool created a more equitable workplace (in terms of participation), less overtime for academic staff, new full-time appointments and greater job security for those appointed from casual or contract based positions.

Maybe it’s time to embrace workload modeling and planning as a useful strategy to address equity and diversity issues in academia?

NB: This blog post was written entirely within normal business hours!


Perspectives on gender (in)equality in the construction industry

IPED board member, Chrissi McCarthy, shares her perspectives on gender (in)equality in the UK construction industry in an open letter to the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

Despite a range of initiatives aimed at increasing women’s representation across the construction sector, the numbers of women still remain low.

Across the sector, women represent 11% of the workforce.

In addition, times of recession see these numbers decline further.

In this blog post, Chrissi explores the importance of celebrating women in the sector through awards, and why the lack of any nominated women for the CIOB’s Construction Manager of the Year awards matters to both men and women working in the sector.

Attending a conference for the first time

First time conference attendance can be a daunting experience – here two PhD students are interviewed by Kate Sang about their first conferences.

For the first time I was able to take my own PhD students to conferences. Kenny Olowookere and Rafal Sitko are both in their first year of study and were able to present their proposed theoretical frameworks. Thank you to Heriot Watt for supporting our trips. Below Kenny and Rafal discuss their first academic conference experiences.

1. Can you tell me about the first conference you attended – what was it called, where was it and why did you decide to go?

Kenny: The first conference I attended was the EDI (Equality Diversity and Inclusion) Conference in Munich. My major reason for attending was in order to obtain some useful feedback on my work. I also attended in order to meet and network with colleagues in my field.

Rafal: I was lucky to attend the Gender, Work and Organisation 2014 conference, which was hosted at Keele University. It is an international and interdisciplinary forum on problems of gender inequality at work. The idea to attend GWO came from my supervisors. Knowing the rank of the GWO conference in my research area they suggested I should apply.

2. What did you present at the conference?

Kenny: I presented a conceptual paper titled: ‘The Linguistic Construction of Difference within Normative Organizational Contexts’.

Rafal: As a first year PhD student I did not have any empirical findings to share with the audience but it was a chance for me to present the theoretical framework behind my thesis. I discussed at the conference my adaptation of the intersectionality theory.

3. What did you enjoy most about the conference?

Kenny: The streams addressed issues that were relevant to my research area and I enjoyed engaging in discussion with like-minded research oriented colleagues.

Rafal: I was impressed with both the friendly atmosphere and the high level of academic debate. Everyone was approachable and easy to talk to. The atmosphere was relaxed. At the same time there were many excellent presentations. It was a pleasure to take part in different debates.

4. What were the main benefits of attending the conference?

Kenny: I was able to obtain useful and constructive feedback in a relaxed environment; and I made several good contacts.

Rafal: It was an opportunity for me to defend but also challenge my ideas. I had to expose my work to a broader audience, which seemed scary in the beginning but turned out to be an excellent practice and experience.

Attending other presentations was also very educational. I learned many new concepts or new perspectives on topics which I was already familiar with. The presentations significantly broadened my scope of interests. I could also learn from them how to present conference papers in the future.

Last but not least attending the conference was an excellent opportunity to meet experts in my field. It was amazing to talk to and exchange emails with authors of my favourite articles.

5. What advice would you give someone attending their first academic conference?

Kenny: Engage as much as possible with the whole process; it is a valuable experience, worth the work you put into it.

Rafal: Try to attend the conference with someone else. Find out if anyone from your institution is going or encourage your friends who are also doing a PhD to apply for the same conference. Going in a bigger group can be a lot of fun!

6. How has attending the conference affected your PhD study?

Kenny: It has had a positive effect on my PhD as it helped develop some insight into future publications that could come out of the research.

Rafal: At the conference I received a lot of feedback on my thesis. It significantly changed my perception of the theoretical framework which I wanted to adopt. I realised that some of the concepts which I originally planned to use are unnecessary and that I should improve my understanding of the main theory. Overall, attending the conference was a great educating experience.

The next EDI conference will be in Tel-Aviv in July 2015, the journal can be found here

More detail on the Gender, Work and Organization conference and journal can be found here

Equality and diversity issues in the news

Dr Josephine Kinge – Lecturer in Human Resource Management, University of East Anglia, UK and Editorial Board member of IPED.

Reflecting this morning after taking an online training module as part of my institution’s commitment to Equality and Diversity – I am glad to say that I got 100% correct Phew!

I think that it is not so much staying within the law that is a challenge per se but instead it is the regulation of individual behaviour and making individuals aware about how their behaviour is perceived by those that they interact with at work.

Later on the same day I read an article in the BBC News magazine about “inappropriate” sexual behaviours and specifically whether you should ask someone’s permission to kiss them?  The online article brought up issues and debates such as the one about consent and how it should be established and also the importance of old-fashioned manners and how we behave with one another.  The article goes onto the wider debate about the role of legislation in regulating this behaviour and the problem that it is open to interpretation.  As Catherine Hakim says in the article “Law is far too crude to be used to regulate social interaction” but some would argue there needs to be a safety net and that while legislation is not the whole answer or perfect solution – it is a necessary part of the answer to ensure that we don’t risk moving backwards.

A more important point is made by Professor Frank Furedi in the same article that people should be able to trust in their own judgement and should be encouraged to do so by their employers.   – It is important to have that confidence and a maturity because if we simply follow the rules (some would say blindly) we lose our ability to judge what is appropriate by learning to read other human beings.

This leaves me with a number of thoughts and reflections about the role of legislation but perhaps more importantly – it left me considering whether we can teach judgement in these situations.

International Labour Process Conference 2014 Review

Dr Susan Sayce – Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management, University of East Anglia, UK and Co-Editor-in-Chief of IPED.

Welcome to the review of the 32nd  international Labour Process Conference 2014. The conference took place on the banks of the River Thames in April at Kings College, London UK and 194 papers were accepted and 250 delegates registered. The labour process conference aim is to expand debate between theory and research in the labour process. While the focus can be on management , labour, political context, capitalism and so on it is how this impact on the workers themselves, their struggles their experiences as workers in a changing global market that also comes into focus.

To this end there were five special streams and two keynote speakers to help develop knowledge in this area. The keynotes were from Paul Edwards (University of Birmingham) who presented a master class in doing research in his paper ‘critical social science and emancipation some rules of engagement with policy and practices’  While Vicki Smith

(University of California, Davis) spoke impressively about how the recruitment process can be used to bolster the infrastructure of workplace to create ‘appropriate workers’ in her keynote ‘Controlling for consent: Recruitment as an under-theorized mechanism for control’.

 There were 5 major streams for this conference that explored:

  • Professional Work: Digital Technologies and new managerial practices
  • Reconceptualising employability through a labour process lens.
  • The Missing Manager: Management through a Labour Process lens
  • Occupational segregation in the global economy: Impacts across gender, ethnicity and immigration
  • Workplaces regimes and worker struggles in developing countries.

 The streams generated lots of international papers around both new contemporary themes such as using social media and tweeter in worker resistance to more classic themes such as developing employability and career making in a low wage labour market.  The missing manager theme generated lots of paper about the complexity of management in areas such NGOs and their labour process as well as how managers deal with conflict.

However, as an academic interested in equality and diversity it was the last two streams that I followed the most as authors discussed problems about work labour markets in transition. In one session we had a discussion about the corporatization of mining work in Peru, the difficulty of change in Russian mining towns and then moved straight to Venezuela to discuss the ‘modelo Obrero’ and its impact there.  International research also featured in the discussion of outsourcing and its destabilizing impact on work and representation in Brazil, India  and segmented workplaces in Korea. 

The stream on occupational segregation indicates the historical link between labour process frameworks in conjunction with feminist thinking to give research insight into topics such as domestic labour, the wages of housework within a global market amongst others.  Also there was a lot of interest in a group of papers that discussed the impact of trade liberalisation on job market dynamics and the challenges that this raised in diverse countries such as the Ukraine, Spain and Poland while one session discussed domestic partnership in Sweden, women’s work in the family business in the Japanese textile industry as well as intersectionality in the Turkish tomato industry focusing on women and Kurdish workers. 

The many doctoral contributors found the conference friendly and supportive as they exposed their research work to public scrutiny for the first time to receive useful feedback. Overall there was a real mix of theory and practice in the delegate’s contribution to the conference, which was both reassuring but also inspiring as one heard about the experiences of workers and their struggles elsewhere.

So see you in April 2015 at the 33rd International Labour Process Conference in Athens Greece.


Welcome to the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality and Diversity blog

We are delighted to announce the launch of Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality and Diversity: An International Journal. This multi-lingual and fully open access journal will publish peer reviewed papers covering any aspect of equality and diversity, such as studies of employment, education and other provision of services. The aim of the journal is to provide a forum for international research which advances and challenges our understanding of equality and diversity from innovative theoretical and empirical perspectives.

We welcome the following forms of submissions:

  1. Original research papers which examine equality and diversity in any disciplines / sector from any geographical location. Papers may be position pieces, theoretically informed empirical work, theoretical pieces or systematic literature reviews (between 6000 to 8000 words plus references and a 200 word abstract and up to five key words/terms).
  2. Case studies, including examples of equality and diversity interventions from the public and private sector, teaching, charities and other bodies (maximum length 5000 words plus references and a 150 word summary).
  3. Letters – this may include responses to previously published studies – we hope to encourage debate.
  4. Professional insight including, teaching resources (many of our readers will be engaged in teaching within higher education and the school system), community and industrial outreach and reports from conferences, training sessions, etc. (maximum length of 1500 words)
  5. Essays from students in the field of equality and diversity (maximum length 3000 words plus references and 150 word abstract).

Call for proposals for special issues:

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality and Diversity: An International Journal will publish at least one special issue per year. Please contact the journal at with an expression of interest and further details.